A Response to: “What Crisis?: The Reality for Illinois School for the Deaf”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Response to: “What Crisis?: The Reality for Illinois School for the Deaf”
By Jerry Covell

Aaron R. published a post on his blog on February 18, 2013 with the headline: What Crisis?: The reality for Illinois School for the Deaf,” in response to my February 6, 2013 open letter titled: “25 Years After DPN, Deaf STILL CAN’T?” (http://saveourdeafschools.org). I want to thank him for his post, because it reinforced and validated the facts in my first open letter and brought more attention to the problems existing at Illinois School for the Deaf.

In Aaron’s blog post, the author provided “points of clarification” (although mostly false clarifications) in an apparent attempt to divert people’s attention from the acts of oppression and discrimination that I mentioned in my open letter. His post did not by any means constitute any kind of clarification on the issues. It was instead a defense of an audist’s position and a justification for cued speech. The issue is absolutely not about cued speech at all. I don’t really give a rat’s arse about the topic of cued speech compared to the importance of what the real issue is. His blog looks down on deaf people’s basic human rights to cultural identity and language. The author wants us to think that cued speech is perceived by the deaf community as currently being “dangerous” and threatening, when it is truly insignificant in the scheme of things of what occurred and what is still going on at the Illinois School for the Deaf. The core issue of what is happening at the Illinois School for the Deaf (and everywhere else for that matter) involves the acts of discrimination, oppression and the continued perpetuation of the plantation mentality that is being imposed on the deaf community. I will not get into philosophical debates with the author about specific issues in teaching methodology. That is for another day and time. I will attempt to bring the attention back to the issue of discrimination and oppression being carried out against deaf students, deaf educators, deaf staff, deaf parents and the deaf community, by providing even more evidence!

General Points
The author claims that “some people have expressed their opinion privately...” and that “this article has been checked for accuracy by different sources.” This is laughable as those opposed did not talk to him and I know that this author did not actually check with Fara Harper or another individual who witnessed the discriminatory incident that occurred on January 17, 2013. Furthermore, the author claims that “the students at ISD will have the final say in this matter when they graduate and go on to pursue their dreams”. It is interesting to note that the students have been complaining about this matter and their complaints have fallen on deaf ears (pun intended).

I never claimed to be an expert on cued speech. If I was wrong on any details about the nature of it, then I apologize and thank you for clearing it up.

We were upset when Visual Phonics was introduced and used at Illinois School for the Deaf. It was used regardless of the communication modalities of the child. Everyone was required to use it. It was claimed at that time that research proved that it will help with the literacy skills of deaf students. We knew it was not working because the students were confused and struggled with this tool (so did the educators). The author clearly admitted that Visual Phonics is a failure by stating that “the teachers were not satisfied and researched other options and then learned about Cued Speech.” Now we are told to use cued speech. One can understand the resistance happening on the part of the educators and deaf people involved.

The author asserts that the “Cuers are the ones experiencing oppression and discrimination from members of the Deaf Community”, however the author later stated that “many native deaf cuers are also fluent signers and members of the deaf and hard of hearing community.” Those statements are conflicting. We do not discriminate against our own and we welcome all with their various backgrounds (oralists, cuers, CI users, English-based signers, mainstreamed and/or residential students) as long as they can sign. However, when those cuers (oralists, CI users, or English based signers for that matter) portray themselves as superior and/or intelligent than a Deaf person who uses ASL...such an individual will be shunned not discriminated against because their attitude is destructive and harmful to the deaf community.

Word Play and a Record
Resigned or retired? Does it really make any difference? Isn’t it appropriate for one to submit a letter of resignation from employment in order to retire? This is such a trivial non-issue. However, Marybeth Lauderdale, the former superintendent of the Illinois School for the Deaf has jumped into this public debate and brought attention to herself when my first open letter was not about her. Marybeth sent me a private message via Facebook on February 10, 2013 and she said: “Jerry, you should have fact-checked before posting that information on your ‘Gallaudet Protest’ site. The easiest fact to prove? I RETIRED, rather than RESIGNED—those words have very different definitions and connotations. Perhaps you are listening to the wrong, uninformed, people. Does Gallaudet know you are using their name to disseminate inaccurate and slanderous information? I also graduated from Gallaudet, and have a professional reputation to maintain and protect. I have contacted my attorney. I expect a retraction and a public apology, post haste.” As of today, I have not heard from her attorney and I doubt I ever will. She must think I am uninformed and uneducated regarding this matter. Marybeth worked at the Illinois School for the Deaf, which is a state agency, and she was a “public official” when she was the superintendent of that school. The issue about public officials being subject to criticism was settled in the famous New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case. Furthermore, I have said nothing libelous or with malice. Therefore, I will not retract my open letter or apologize for the content of it. However, I will correct my one statement, per her request, and say here that the former superintendent retired from the Illinois School for the Deaf. The source which I relied on was the Jacksonville, Illinois newspaper, The Journal Courier, as they did not mention anywhere that she retired. See for yourself at http://www.myjournalcourier.com/news/isd-isvi-superintendent-leaving-the-state/article_308cdc61-c525-5178-aba4-284de56695f6.html. I guess the newspaper’s author is uniformed and uneducated as well and that her attorney will contact him as well?

Marybeth Lauderdale sent an email to the educators and staff at the Illinois School for the Deaf on February 21, 2013. In the email she stated that she wants to “set the record straight as to what I did and did not do before I left ISD.” She is entitled to that, of course, yet I would like to point out that she cannot absolve herself for what happened after August 1, 2012 because the decisions she made prior to her retirement on July 31, 2012 set things into motion. She is responsible for setting those things in motion before she retired and cannot escape criticism for those actions. Under her leadership as a superintendent, she created the environment that we are currently in today. We, as she called us, “outside, uninformed, uneducated individuals who seem bent on destroying the school” actually want to save the school from the oppressor...the audists who are involved in destroying it.

A bit of history
There is no denying that there have been countless discussions in the last three years regarding the use of cued speech at the school...among the administrators and educators (the deaf community was not involved). The operative word is “discussions”, not “decisions”. It started in the high school as a pilot program using cued speech in reading instruction and recently has also included language instruction, and this has not changed at the end of 2011-2012 school year. In an email dated on May 22, 2012, Marybeth Lauderdale, the former superintendent, wrote at the time, “I am not ready to make a unilateral decision that ISD is ready for wholesale endorsement of Cued Speech. I do not want to be one person making a decision for the entire school”. She continued in the same email, “I do support continuation of using Cued Speech for English instruction support, and over the next year, to further monitor its effectiveness. ” Furthermore, in the same email, Marybeth included an attachment called Questions for Superintendent from Cued Speech Program, (identified as the May 22 attachment; it was created by Kathryn Surbeck, Director of Evaluation Center at ISD and Dr. Beverly Trezek, Literacy Researcher), which addressed a comment that cued speech should be required for the campus by stating: “Change of any kind can be challenging and before instituting change, it is wise to try small pilot projects, gather and share data. It is also prudent to educate staff and to solicit concerns and respond to questions. Ultimately, however, the decision whether to expand or limit the use of Cued Speech on campus will be an administrative one.”

It was generally understood that cued speech will continue to be a pilot program to be used in high school for English literacy; and that it would not be used school-wide for every student, and that it would be used to accommodate those students who use cued speech as their communication mode (as required by IEPs). However, the decision to use cued speech was unexpected and arbitrarily implemented when Marybeth Lauderdale announced in her email on July 26, 2012, made a few days prior to her retirement. She stated, “ISD will be implementing the use of Cued Speech this fall as the primary tool for phonics instruction during literacy teaching. Visual Phonics will continue to be used as appropriate for speech instruction and for clarification as needed within literacy instruction. Visual Phonics is not being banned, but replaced by Cued Speech as the primary tool for classroom use.” In addition, Marybeth continued, “This August we are sending two educators, Nicole Frye and Allison Fraas, to receive training to become Cued Speech Trainers. They will, in turn, conduct workshops prior to the beginning of school for educators who have not yet been trained in Cued Speech.” This decision caught many educators off guard and caused them to be confused. The deaf community was stunned by this news which prompted the Illinois School for the Deaf Alumni Association’s Legislative Action Committee to send out an Alert letter on July 28, 2012 regarding their shock and disbelief about the cued speech decision.

Yes, Hilary Franklin spoke with the ISD community about cued speech after providing cued speech trainings to the educators. It was assumed that she was asked at the last minute talk to the ISD community after the administrators realize how upset the deaf community was. The meeting, A Conversation About Cued Speech, was scheduled for August 15, 2012. The ISDAA received very short notice about this meeting only four days before on August 11, 2012. Fortunately, it was such a hot issue within the deaf community that approximately 100 people were in attendance. We were stunned and wanted answers. The meeting was unproductive, according to various sources, because of how controlled and restrictive it was. Questions had to be submitted prior to the meeting and the meeting lasted only one hour. Imagine the deaf community not knowing what cued speech is about and not allowed an open dialogue about it. Those who attended the meeting left confused, upset and wondering what was going on with the Illinois School for the Deaf.

Two different camps of educators
There have historically been two different camps of educators in the United States since the infamous Milan Conference of 1880. Yes, there are two different camps at the Illinois School for the Deaf today...those who support cued speech and those who do not. It is also broken down into camps of those who support the use of cued speech in all classes and those who prefer its use only during literacy instruction. It is obvious that the author is clueless in thinking that everyone at the school is supportive of cued speech. In the May 22 attachment, a question was asked as to why the presenters were speaking and using interpreters, instead of signing for themselves as done in the past few years and the reply was, “The topic of cued Speech has been controversial on campus and was challenging to present because of numerous emotional discussions that have taken place on this topic.” Furthermore, why do you think the former superintendent recommended in her May 22, 2012 email that everyone at the school read: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt and also: Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems by Barry Johnson? It was to urge everyone to find some middle ground, because there were indeed divisions and disagreements at the school on this issue. If the author had fully investigated this by interviewing people other than those who supported his cause, he would have found that these factions do indeed exist at the school.

An adverse environment that is hostile to the deaf community
The author attempts to twist my words out of context to create the implication that the deaf community is against cued speech. Not once did my letter say that cued speech is harmful to the deaf and hard of hearing community. In fact, I believe it benefits some deaf children, and I am not a supporter of a “one-size-fits-all” educational philosophy. Tons of deaf people have this view, too. My statement is related to the fact that there are two different camps, not about cued speech itself. To be clear, I will repeat it again... The existence of these two different camps at the Illinois School for the Deaf is evidence of an adverse environment being created at the school that is hostile to the deaf community (from my first letter). The obvious reality is that this is what is happening at the Illinois School for the Deaf—an atmosphere is being created that is hostile to the deaf community. Ask any deaf educator, deaf staff member, deaf parent, deaf alumnus/alumna or deaf friend of ISD (including some hearing educators). You will find so much tension and hostility there.

The Language Planning Committee...stacked with Cued Speech supporters
Again, the author is attempting to twist my words and divert attention from the real issue. I never once mentioned anything about the “data or evidence being stacked in favor of using Cued Speech.” Instead, I said that committee was stacked with Cued Speech supporters. I was adamantly referring to the supporters of cued speech! (that is, the members of the committee). And also, NO! It was not the same committee as the first one that was stopped/suspended/disbanded/inactivated for whatever reasons as the Language Planning Committee apparently did not meet during the 2010-2011 or 2011-2012 school years. The Language Planning Committee was actually formed (or re-formed) by the former superintendent who stated in her May 22, 2012 email: “I do support and call for the formation of a balanced language planning committee which will focus on what to offer, and when; and what to use and when, as far as language and communication access. This committee should then be able to make a solid recommendation at the end of the next school year.” She also stated in the July 26, 2012 email that, “A Language Planning Committee will be bid this summer and will commence meeting in the fall for the purpose stated above.” (in reference to May 22, 2012 email).

The newly formed Language Planning Committee originally has (8) members who were tasked to develop a language planning policy for the school by the end of the 2013 school year. This committee was composed of six (6) educators and a deaf contractor and a hearing member of the staff. There was only one (1) deaf educator in that committee, Fara Harper. The rest was composed of hearing educators. That is not balanced. The committee was obviously stacked with cued speech supporters. As stated in my last letter, and I will state again: the interim superintendent tried to make the committee be more balanced by adding more individuals on the committee. Two (2) more deaf people were added to the committee along with six (6) more hearing people. This committee now has thirteen (13) members and one deaf contractor. Out of fourteen (14) members, only four (4) are deaf. It is still not balanced and yes, it is still stacked with cued speech supporters. It is my understanding that this committee was temporarily suspended as a result of the incident of January 17, 2013, but has been reconvened for March 21 of this year.

The shocking incident
The author confirmed and corroborated that discrimination actually occurred on January 17, 2013. When Fara Harper wanted to know why she would not be teaching the principal’s child and asked if it is because she was deaf, the pre-K to 8th grade principal did reply that Fara: “...can’t provide the educational environment he needs, then I guess yes.” Thank you for confirming it! A hearing principal did say that Fara is not able to provide the educational environment that her child needs because Fara is deaf. In other words, Fara is not qualified to teach the principal’s son due to her inability to hear and speak. There is no other way around it. That it is a flat-out discrimination, despite what the author asserts about how it happened. The author attempted to put the blame for this statement on Fara for supposedly instigating by pushing the issue repeatedly. Fara makes it clear that she did not push the issue and only asked “is it because I am deaf” once. It is important to note that this issue was already thought of and planned by the hearing principal prior to the meeting. The author stated that the hearing principal “...has concerns about her son’s progress at ISD and contemplated the possibility of mainstreaming him next year.” That statement by itself demonstrates that she already decided, prior to the incident, that Fara is not qualified to teach her son (her son was scheduled to be in Fara’s class this coming fall). I have no reason to doubt Fara’s word and want to remind you that there was one hearing educator who witnessed this incident and who confirms Fara’s statement.

The author tries to make this incident appear trivial by saying that Fara’s discrimination claim was rejected. That is absolutely FALSE! Fara’s complaint of discrimination is still being investigated. Her complaint has been filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Illinois Department of Human Services. As of today, no decisions have been made by either agency related to Fara’s discrimination claim.

...Termination
The author claims that “there is no evidence of staff members ‘bullying, harassing, jabbing, patronizing and condescending’ others who are deaf or hard of hearing”. Then how do one explain that certain hearing educators have pushed the idea, as I stated before, that “deaf people cannot do anything” unless they can speak and/or unless they have cochlear implants. This started a few years ago, when the same three hearing individuals who, at that time were at the high school, caused an uproar due to the negative comments they made to students, claiming that they would not be able to go to college and would not be successful in life or smart if they do not speak or have cochlear implants. That infuriated quite a few educators, instructors and dorm parents, both hearing and deaf alike. It resulted in a high school-wide meeting taking place which is known as the “AMPLIFICATION FORUM,” which was held on August 29, 2011. The purpose of the forum was included in this announcement:
The administration would like to have a forum for our H.S. students about the varying perspectives regarding CIs, as well as presenting information about CIs. We hope, as a result of this forum:

  1. Students will be aware of varying perspectives and opinions on this topic.
  2. Students can begin formulating their own thoughts on this topic by attending this forum and continuing to educate themselves about the topic.
  3. Students will accept that they can respectfully disagree or agree with their peers or adults about this topic.”

The above situation itself is a partial evidence of such ‘bullying, harassing, jabbing, patronizing and condescending’ others who are deaf or hard of hearing. Also, there are more evidence but the author is unable to see what is happening when he lives in Colorado (according to the blogger’s profile). However, I have seen few such occurrences first-hand, myself and I can corroborate that this is true. Many deaf educators, deaf staff members, deaf parents and deaf community can and will corroborate this (even some hearing educators). Did you talk to them, Aaron? You did not contact me. I would be happy to talk with you. I would be happy to give you their names so that you can contact them.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Accusing me of having a limited understanding regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? Are you serious? Really? Yes, I am aware that the term “cued language services” was added to the law back in 2004. Cued speech should be used if it meets the individual child’s needs in terms of being the communication mode of the child, as stated in this IDEA law:
Consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of the child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode 20 U.S.C. Section 1414 (d) (3) (B) (iv)

The author is right that the Illinois School for the Deaf, by law, is required to provide a “repertoire of services for children with hearing loss”. The issue brought into question is not about the repertoire of services that is being offered or about cued speech itself. It is about being devious and undemocratic. It is about the issue of the administration forcing ONE teaching method onto the students, despite strong objections on the part of some of the parents and educators. The school is potentially violating the law in terms of the language and communication needs of each child. The question was asked, “Is cued speech in students’ IEPs or do their IEPs say ‘use of ASL.’ Do their parents really know?” The response was in the May 22 attachment which stated, “In their current form, both Cued Speech and Visual Phonics are instructional tools that are being used to address students’ literacy goals. Specific instructional strategies or tools are not delineated on the IEP, although both Visual Phonics and Cued Speech have been mentioned in some of our current IEPs. When Cued speech is being used as a communication system, it is on the IEP.” That is a potential violation of the law because that quote is implying that cued speech does not have to be discussed in the IEP however the law is clear that such instructional tools (direct instruction) must be in the child’s language and/or communication mode, period! Therefore it must be discussed in the child’s IEP. So what happened to the “repertoire of services for children with hearing loss” in these situations?

Yes, some parents are specifically requesting cued speech be used, but frankly, most do not care or know because of the continual introduction of various communication modalities and tools. Cued speech was not discussed during IEPs. When it was brought up by deaf parents during their child’s IEP, it was met with hostility. They ignored and dismissed the objectors (deaf parents) as supposedly being unqualified and unknowledgeable about how to appropriately educate their deaf children. Due to the school’s insistence that cued speech be used with their child, it caused some deaf parents to insist that the school include a clause in their child’s IEP indicating that they do not want their child to use cued speech or be punished for not using it (when the IEP clearly stated ASL as mode of communication in the first place). What has been happening prompted the interim superintendent, Joan Forney to send out an email on February 1, 2013 to remind educators that, “The student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) drives how we implement instruction at ISD. This means since we have 256 students at ISD, we have 256 different programs. This is what is often described as the ‘I’ in IEP. At the IEP, we engage in individual language planning for that student. In the IEP, we determine the specific communication needs of the student. The languages and modes of communication are determined in the IEP.” That quote is in compliance with the IDEA and should happen during each and every IEPs and I have not seen that practiced in IEPs as of yet.

Data-Driven Decisions and Evidence-Based Practices
The author can promote his so-called “data-driven decisions and evidence-based practices” regarding cued speech at the Illinois School for the Deaf all he wants. Again, it is not about the issue of cued speech itself. It is about:

  • the attitudes and the arrogance of certain people toward the deaf,
  • how the cued speech policy was developed and implemented,
  • how the deaf parents are being treated during the IEP process,
  • how the students are being forced to learn a new communication modality,
  • how the deaf educators at the school are being treated,
  • how the hearing educators at the school who disagree with the cued speech approach are being treated, and
  • how members of the deaf community associated with the school are being treated.

They are all being subjected to constant oppression via condescending comments, attitudes and actions. Not only that, a qualified deaf educator was discriminated against because of her deafness and her inability to speak. Such demeaning views and attitudes from the hearing principal, the hearing Reading Specialist and certain hearing educators must cease, period. It is the audism, not cued speech that is causing the problem.

Yes, Aaron, there is no denying that there is a “systematic discrimination and oppression taking place” at the Illinois School for the Deaf. There is a crisis at the Illinois School for the Deaf.

Aaron, you have apparently been misled and duped into publishing that commentary, because if you read my first letter again, you’ll see that it is not about cued speech or the issue of being for or against cued speech. Those certain hearing individual(s) can defend themselves, but they apparently attempted to use you, as a deaf person, to get you to act as a pawn to divide the deaf community and create the temporary diversion of focusing on a philosophical debate on how to educate the deaf while ignoring the oppression and discrimination occurring at the Illinois School for the Deaf. I do not think you would accept such oppression towards deaf people unless you find such behavior acceptable. Deaf people everywhere, and I believe you concur with this, are tired and fed up seeing many of our deaf children consistently reading and writing English below 5th grade level, a situation that is perpetuated because of the hodgepodge of approaches and strategies being imposed on deaf children that do little to create confidence that deaf children are receiving an appropriate education. You claimed that “there is a new sense of empowerment taking place for those who are still acquiring and learning English as a language”. Sadly, what is really happening is the continued disempowerment of deaf children who are being pulled away from their identity and language.

And now, 25 years after Deaf President Now protest, Gallaudet University has seen more growth and success under the leaderships of deaf presidents than during the 124 years under hearing jurisdiction. Isn’t it time to let deaf educators finally take control of deaf education? What if we have a majority of deaf educators, a majority of deaf principals and majority of deaf directors/coordinators/deans at the Illinois School for the Deaf? What would happen then?

This is a good time to be empowered! It is time to stop the oppressive attitudes toward deaf people, and it starts with you.



Sources:

Email – May 22, 2012 by Marybeth Lauderdale
Attachment – May 22, 2012, “Questions for Superintendent from Cued Speech Program”
Email – July 26, 2012 by Marybeth Lauderdale
Email – July 28, 2012 by Thomas Chance, ISDAA Legislative Action Chairperson
Email – August 12, 2012 Thomas Chance, ISDAA Legislative Action Chairperson
Flyer – “A Conversation About Cued Speech”
Email – February 1, 2013 by Joan Forney, Interim Superintendent
IEP Meeting – February 7, 2013
Private Message, Facebook – February 10, 2012
Blog – February 18, 2013 by Aaron
Email – February 21, 2013 by Marybeth Lauderdale
Fara Harper
Conversations – various dates and various individuals




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